Online Learning and the Tyranny of the Database

A recent Techcrunch article concerning MOOCs suggested that a majority of people teaching online felt their online course shouldn’t count for college credit. And yet, a refrain I have heard several times recently is that online courses are actually more difficult than the face-to-face course, which got me thinking about what exactly is meant by ‘difficult’. And I realized that one of the things online courses do much better than face to face courses is generate data.

In most online course systems, in order to track progress in the course, and in fact just to make the course operate at all, a great deal of data is tracked. I can look in our system and know when a user logged in, when they clicked a link, when and how they answer questions, what material they looked at for how long, etc. This is not some sort of spyware – it’s just how the system works. But for many people, this data equates to the idea that ‘time spent in system’ is equal to ‘time spent learning’. It is not uncommon for someone to ask for this complete range of data to verify that a course was ‘done right’.



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